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Friday, May 24, 2024

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Review & Opinion

Yet Another Mandate Is Imposed by Yet Another Agency

Yet Another Mandate Is Imposed by Yet Another Agency

Carlos Marques/Shutterstock.com

On Wednesday, April 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new rules for the monitoring and removal of Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in drinking water. PFAS are a class of manufactured chemical compounds that have been increasingly identified as dangerous to health.

PFAS exist all around us in everyday commodities in home and work environments, things like food packaging, non-stick cookware, home care products and waterproof clothing to name a bare few. The PFAS class of compounds have such a long life in the environment that they are frequently referred to as forever chemicals.

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The ability of our citizens to foot the bill for each government agency’s urgent issue is not infinite.

It is time for honest economic analysis that is publicly shared.

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The chemicals we are told leach into lakes, rivers and groundwater. They also are present in farm products but the EPA rule is directed solely at drinking water. They are not new. PFAS compounds have been ubiquitous for decades.

The EPA rules set limits for five individual contaminants in the PFAS class. Under the rules, water systems, including municipal and local authorities, must maintain a maximum level defined for each contaminant.

Water systems must reduce the PFAS levels in their drinking water if testing shows the water exceeds regulatory standards. Water system operators have three years in which to establish monitoring for these chemicals. Beginning in 2027 system operators must include results of regular testing in their Annual Water Quality reports.

Systems that have test results above the new PFAS standards have five years in which to implement solutions that reduce PFAS levels in the drinking water. There are several possible options for reducing the level of PFAS in drinking water.

These new EPA rules are in addition to New Jersey’s existing PFAS drinking water requirements. This effort is also in addition to the already imposed mandate to inspect all water lines for lead use, a process that has caused county towns with very little likelihood of lead piping to commit significant funding to a multiyear effort that has already resulted in surcharges or higher rates in many communities.

Protection against contaminants that are harmful to health is a worthy goal. The problem comes when the government at both federal and state levels imposes mandates to repair the impact of a century or more of economic activity all at once. Whether the focus is drinking water, the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, the required upgrades to infrastructure, the “necessary” increases in electricity rates or new regulations impacting development, the simultaneous attack on our ills has serious consequences.

Let’s stick with the EPA rule for the moment but keep it in a mental context of all of the other ills we are trying to address at the same time.

The EPA says that the new rule will cost $1.5 billion to implement each year. Federal funding is being set aside to help defer the cost.

The American Water Works Association counters that the costs will be three times the agency’s projection. The National Association of Water Companies argues that the costs of implementing and maintaining the new rules will fall disproportionately on the water customers.

One does not have to be distrustful of government to see a problem here. We have competing projections, probably both rooted in part in a self-serving view of the issue. Where is the analysis? How did the EPA arrive at its statement of annual costs? It is another case of being given the conclusion with no access to the process that supported that conclusion.

At every level the government led efforts to protect against climate change threats, against drinking water PFAS, against lead water lines, and more, leaving the public with a dazed sense of projected doom that must urgently be addressed at any economic cost. It is not the way to build public support.

Simply put everything cannot be urgent at the same time. Mandates cannot replace public discussion and the setting of priorities. Even an economy robust enough to support billions of dollars in grants cannot sustain such effort for long.

The ability of our citizens to foot the bill for each government agency’s urgent issue is not infinite. Must we inspect coastal communities for highly unlikely lead service lines, absorbing that cost in our water rates, while also initiating new forever chemical regulations, while also transitioning to electric cars, while also being told we must significantly enhance the infrastructure that transmits electricity, while also…

We all want clean drinking water. The goal is unimpeachable. Yet each of the various agencies that make individual decisions are adding to an overall burden within a defined time period that must be sustainable.

It is time for priorities. It is time for honest economic analysis that is publicly shared. It is time to reevaluate the overall sense of urgency behind every rule.

Some are urgent, all cannot be.

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From the Bible: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

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